Amid his endless spitballing of new features for the social media network he reluctantly bought, CEO Elon Musk has announced plans for Twitter to no longer display which device a tweet was sent from, whether it’s an iPhone, Android phone, or Twitter’s web client. “We will finally stop adding what device a tweet was written on,” Musk tweeted, adding that he thinks the feature is a “waste of screen space & compute.”
“Literally no one even knows why we did that,” he added.
Okay, so three things. First off: who knows whether this change will actually come to pass. Musk’s takeover of Twitter has been chaotic to say the very least, and the rollout of the Tesla CEO’s most high-profile new feature, paid verification, had to be paused in the face of massive problems. When it comes to changes being made at Twitter under Musk’s leadership, you can’t truly be certain a new feature is launching until it’s actually launched.
Second: there are plenty of legitimate reasons “why we did that.” Inventor of the hashtag Chris Messina argues that showing what device sent a tweet was a good way of providing visibility to formerly third-party Twitter clients like Tweetie and TweetDeck and provides a “status indicator” to show whether a tweet was sent from desktop or mobile. And Twitter’s former CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey agrees. In response, he simply replied that Messina was “correct.”
But third, and perhaps most importantly, is that Twitter’s ability to show what kind of device sent a tweet is a fun feature.
Mostly, it has to be said, that’s been because of some good old-fashioned fuck ups when social media managers for various non-Apple phone brands have been caught tweeting from iPhones (often by chief of the “Twitter police,” YouTuber Marques Brownlee). One Microsoft executive got caught cheating on the Windows Phone with an iPhone not once but twice. What better way of promoting a Google Pixel phone and sticking it to Tim Cook than by tweeting at the Apple CEO from one of his company’s own handsets? Or why not express your love for Samsung’s new Note 3 using the medium of an iPhone?
Android smartphone manufacturer Huawei found itself at the center of two high-profile “Twitter for iPhone” mishaps. The first time, brand ambassador Gal Gadot was caught tweeting about how she loved her new Huawei Mate 10 Pro from an iPhone. But don’t worry everyone, Gadot was quick to assure CNET that she does in fact “love my Huawei P20 and Mate10Pro” but that a member of her publicity team had posted the promotional tweet from their iPhone.
Having some fun at a famous celebrity’s expense is one thing (imagine that), but I have to admit I felt a little more sympathy for Huawei’s external PR team when Reuters reported that the company had demoted two employees and docked their pay by the equivalent of over $700 a month for sending the company’s “Happy New Year” tweet from an iPhone.
But perhaps the best comedic usage of Twitter’s device indicator feature of all time came from an account simply named “Dorothy” who, in 2019, claimed to have tweeted from a smart refrigerator after her mom confiscated all her electronics. “I do not know if this is going to tweet I am talking to my fridge what the heck my Mom confiscated all of my electronics again,” Dorothy tweeted. Sure enough, a little note beneath the (since deleted) tweet suggested it had been sent from “LG Smart Refrigerator.”
Other tweets from “Dorothy” also carried notes claiming to have been sent from Nintendo’s 3DS handheld and Wii U console. “I’m leaving forever. My mom took my phone. I’ll miss you all sm. I’m crying. Goodbye,” she allegedly tweeted via the Nintendo 3DS’s Image Share feature.
As BuzzFeed later reported, the incident was almost certainly faked. It’s relatively easy to manually tell Twitter what device you want it to show your tweets are from. Also, the social network didn’t offer an app for LG smart fridges, and while it would technically be possible to send a tweet via a smart appliance’s built-in web browser, these tweets would likely carry the “Twitter Web App” label rather than anything specific to the device.
But, look, comedy doesn’t have to be true to be funny. The idea of a teenager being so determined to tweet that they resort to using Nintendo consoles and a refrigerator is funny enough, and it’s a neat creative flourish to have the punchline to each post delivered by Twitter’s supposedly impartial interface.
I’m not sure I buy Musk’s reasoning for getting rid of the feature (which, you’ll recall, is that it’s a “waste of screen space & compute”). His changes to Twitter’s verification marks have already necessitated adding an entirely new “official” designation to every single tweet from select accounts, which seems like a far bigger waste of screen space, and Twitter engineers have lined up to vocally criticize Musk’s understanding of the Twitter performance problems that have supposedly necessitated the removal of the feature.
Yes, there are only so many times you can laugh at an Android brand account for tweeting from an iPhone. But at a certain point, Musk’s willingness to turn Twitter upside down risks ditching the small features that have made everyone’s favorite hellsite an occasionally funny place to hang out.